Get Moving and Keep Your Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death of both men and women in the United States [1]. Fortunately, February is American Heart Month, a month dedicated to raising awareness about heart and vascular diseases and how to prevent them. This week, let’s focus on physical activity and how important it is for your heart health.

Risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high LDL(bad) cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, being overweight or obese, poor diet, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol use [2]. Physical activity can improve cholesterol levels, blood pressure, weight, type 2 diabetes; all in addition to strengthening the heart muscle [3].  The National Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic exercise, as well as moderate to high intensity muscle strengthening activity 2 or more days per week [4]. An easy goal to remember is exercising for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. The harder part is sticking with that goal. People ask me what aerobic exercise they should do and that answer simple—do whatever activity is enjoyable to you that gets your heart rate up. This could vary from biking to swimming, jogging, walking or playing sports.

What’s my favorite way to exercise? Well, to challenge my heart and keep in shape, I do three different workouts a week. It’s important to keep mixing up the routine to keep your muscles guessing and the body challenged. For me, it varies between yoga, elliptical, stairs, pilates and swimming. Changing it up makes it more enjoyable and keeps me from getting bored!

 The intensity of an exercise is different for everyone. What might be moderate exercise for a habitual jogger could be vigorous for someone more sedentary. The best way to determine exercise intensity is with heart rate. Moderate intensity is 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate and vigorous activity is 70 to 85 percent of your maximum. You can determine your approximate maximum heart rate by subtract your age from 220 [5]. For example, a 45-year-old would have a maximum heart rate of 175 beats per minute. Therefore, the range for moderate intensity would be between 88 and 122 bpm, and 123 to 149 bpm for vigorous activity.

Exercise can be intimidating if you are not already a physically active person. If you cannot exercise for a full 30 minutes, do your best and you will improve if you stick with it. Remember to practice self-compassion; exercise is good for your entire body, but it is easy to give up if you let your own doubts discourage you. So get started. Do a little more than you did yesterday and you’ll be on your way to a healthier heart!

For more information & sources:

  1. Kochanek KD, Xu JQ, Murphy SL, Miniño AM, Kung HC. Deaths: final data for 2009.
  2. CDC. Million Hearts: strategies to reduce the prevalence of leading cardiovascular disease risk factors. United States, 2011. MMWR2011;60(36):1248–51.
  3. The benefits of physical activity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed February 6, 2014.
  4. American Heart Association. “American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults.” American Heart Association. American Heart Association, n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2013. file://localhost/<http/>
  5. Target heart rates. American Heart Association.